We are the masters of our realities. People often make the mistake of assuming that their perception of reality is objective. In fact, we experience subjective realities, and with the right exercises, we can influence our experiences. I don’t suggest that we delude ourselves into happiness, but you probably have everything you need to be happy right now. Here are three actionable steps that can help you find contentedness.
Compare down. Americans have a habit of comparing ourselves to people who, “have it all.” We enjoy a level of prosperity that 19th-century royalty could only dream of, and yet we suppose our lives lack something important. It’s easy to be unsatisfied if you compare yourself to billionaires who flaunt their wealth, but keeping up with the Jones is a zero sum game. Working to have more than your neighbor won’t make you happy, and it’s mathematically impossible for everyone to be the richest person in the world.
What if you compared down? Instead of measuring yourself against the wealthiest people, you can compare yourself to the poorest. This exercise not only increases my overall satisfaction with life, but it tends to foster feelings of empathy and results in more altruistic behavior and a happier life. Comparing down creates a positive feedback loop.
Things could be worse. Instead of thinking, “this is okay, but things could be better,” tell yourself, “this is okay, and things could be worse.” This slight shift has massive ramifications. We become more content with our circumstances and lead appreciative lives. This is not to say that we should lead lives void of ambition. I argue that our ambitions should be community focused, rather than egocentric. Focusing on others has the counterintuitive effect of making our own lives better.
Value experiences over possessions. Purchasing physical possessions can briefly increase our happiness, but it’s a poor blueprint for lasting fulfillment. The ephemeral pleasure of acquisition is usually followed by a letdown. Imagine buying the newest smartphone. It has all of the features the internet has been buzzing about. You feel like it accurately portrays your style and tech savvy. A few days later you learn that the same company is producing a newer version of the phone that’ll be available in a few weeks. It has, even more, features and all of the techies are buying it. How do you feel about your purchase now? We recognize these feelings and chase the high by making another purchase. In short, we drain our financial resources and have nothing left to show for it. What if instead you chased experiences? How would your life be different?
Changing our reality involves more than blog posts and good intentions. We need to do the hard work of training our minds. I recommend using tools like Headspace to practice mindfulness.